SERMON: How much do I value the life of the church?

How much do I value the life of the church?

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on Sunday 10 February 2019

In the last diocesan weekly mailing came the story of someone who visited the church where the late Ian Paisley was the minister in Northern Ireland. The offertory came round as usual only at this church the money was collected in buckets! When it was brought up, Paisley looked down into the buckets and shouted:

​‘God says, ‘Not enough! Round again!’

And a second collection was taken!

Well this is Iffley, so that’s not quite our style! Our approach is typically Anglican – we try not to mention money at all! But here I am ‘Round again!’ Preaching about money for the second and last time!

We’ve not talked about money for 7 years! And the fact that we don’t have to do this very often is a real tribute to the responsibility and generosity of you! So I want to begin with a very sincere ‘thank you’! There is no other source of regular income except us!

But what’s happened to our finances in the last 7 years that’s forced us now to break our vow of silence? If you were with us two weeks ago you would have heard me mention a number of things – energy costs have risen, some of our church members have sadly died, others have moved away.

And in addition two things that have impacted on our church budget:

Firstly, the amount that we pay into the common fund to support the ministry not just here but in our neighbouring parishes of Littlemore, Blackbird Leys and Barton who are much poorer than we are, our contribution to that common fund has gone up by £9,000 a year, from £46,000 to £55,000 each year.

Some have asked me what this common fund is for? It’s largely to pay for the clergy, to train us, provide us with a house to live in, diocesan support for our ministry and a pension when we retire. We don’t get paid a salary, but instead receive a stipend and that stipend is the same regardless of how long we’ve served the church. So I’ve been ordained 37 years and my stipend is the same as someone who’s been ordained 5 years – it’s enough to live on, that’s the point of a stipend! In this diocese the stipend is just under £27,000. So that’s a little about the common fund into which we as a parish now pay £55,000 a year.

Secondly, as a parish we now rightly pay for the administrative help required to run the church and the hall. So just those items taken together mean that we pay an extra £15,500 a year more now than we did in 2012.

So how have we managed? Well we’ve had many new members join us in the last 7 years and you contribute generously in all sorts of ways including financially for which you too are owed a huge ‘thank you!

And without even being asked, some of us have increased our giving for which again we’re deeply grateful!

Thanks to the generosity of previous generations, we’ve also got some reserves that we can draw on and we’ve dipped into them to balance the books.

And crucially we’ve let out the curacy house since Sarah Northall left us three years ago – and that’s provided us with an income of about £10,000 every year. It’s great news that this summer we’re getting a new curate! He’ll be living with his wife in the curacy house that was built for the ministry and mission in Rose Hill. But that rental income won’t be available to us any more!

Overall we’re about £10,000 short on our core annual budget, and that’s not taking into account our long-term commitments.

About 80 households give regularly in a planned way to St Mary’s, and that’s tremendously encouraging! If we’re one of those, we’re asked to consider increasing our contribution if we can! If we’re not currently one of those, we’re asked to consider becoming one of them!

If at all possible, the best way to do this is through the new Parish Giving Scheme, and if we pay tax to use Gift Aid so we can claim a further 25% from the Inland Revenue.

And very usefully, with the new Parish Giving Scheme we can tick a box to increase our contribution by the rate of inflation each year.

Give monthly, quarterly, annually – whatever suits our finances best, in a regular and planned way. We’ve all been receiving details from Mark and Maureen, our churchwardens. If we can, come to the short presentation from Alex our treasurer, and Mark during coffee in the hall today at 11.30am – it’s a good opportunity to learn more and ask any questions that we may have.

But how much should we give? Our circumstances are so different! It’s never an easy question to answer! But here are three suggestions that I hope might help us.

Firstly the average level of giving in this diocese is £100 a month per person – that’s the average before adding any Gift Aid – £100 a month per person.

Some have asked me whether this is one of the highest levels of giving in the Church of England? The answer is that as a proportion of income the diocese of Oxford comes 19th out of the 44 dioceses that make up the Church of England! So £100 a month per person is the average in this diocese and this diocese is roughly in the middle of the church nationally.

My second suggestion comes from the General Synod of the Church of England.

General Synod encourages us to review our giving annually and to give a proportion of our income. The suggested figure is 5% of post-tax income to the church and 5% to other charities. You’ll recognise there the biblical tithe in modern dress!

Some can give more, others less – that’s for each of us to decide! But if we’re signing up for the first time, start with an amount we know we can afford, and see how we get on.

I want to leave us though with my third and preferred suggestion in answer to the question ‘How much should I give?’ And that’s to ask myself these kinds of questions:• How much do I value the life of the church?• Does my giving reflect this?